Articles Posted in Homicide

In Part One of this three-part post, I wrote of the horrific, nightmarish murder of Deanne Stryker, stabbed and slashed to death while the medical student studied quietly on Saturday, February 24 at the Winchester Public Library.

I also wrote of the fact that the accused murderer, Jeffrey Yao of Winchester, Massachusetts, had a long history of bizarre, dangerous, disturbed and violent behavior, that he was well-known to the Winchester Police Department, and that he had been brought before a judge after being arrested for trying to violently break into a neighbor’s home late one night last September. Yao was brought before a judge on criminal charges from that incident. While I don’t have the official court docket before me now, the likely charge (given press reports of what prompted that arrest,) was probably Attempted Breaking and Entering with Intent to Commit a Felony – a serious charge. From police reports filed in that case, it seems clear that Winchester police communicated Yao’s unstable and disturbed personality to prosecutors, the reporting officer writing that On each of my dealings with Yao he has displayed erratic behavior and mental instability.”

Yet a prosecutor with the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office agreed to recommend that Yao be released – on the extremely liberal sentence of pre-trial probation – and a judge agreed, with the ridiculous proviso that Yao “agree to (mental health) treatment.” Even from my vantage point of being a Middlesex County criminal defense attorney, it can be argued that the judge could have observed that Yao was very arguably, seriously mentally ill. One could ask, what made this judge think that: A) Yao truly and completely understood what he was being told by the court, or that B) He would actually comply with the court’s order? Who was going to make sure this happens – Yao’s parents?  They had previously, and repeatedly, told Winchester police that they themselves (Yao’s parents) could not communicate with him due to his obvious mental illness.  So who was it that was going to assure that Yao landed in front of a competent psychiatric specialist?  As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I’m the first person to admit that it’s uncharacteristic of me to argue that police and prosecutors should have taken a much harder line here.  But they clearly should have. 

Knowing that I’m a criminal defense attorney, a lot of people have approached me lately and expressed shock that Massachusetts murder suspect Jeffrey Yao could slip through the law enforcement and judicial cracks that he slipped through, given the extensive history of worrisome reports and complaints about his strange behavior that were reported to authorities by both Winchester High School students and adult residents of the Winchester neighborhood were he lived. These reports of his bizarre behavior reportedly spanned six years. By now millions across the country know this horrific story: That on Saturday, February 24, Yao walked casually into a public library in the small Massachusetts town of Winchester, carrying a ten inch hunting knife, and stabbed a young medical student by the name of Deane Kenny Stryker, to death. He stabbed her at least 20 times; when she finally fell to the floor, the hunting knife was still in her neck.

This is a scene out of a “Friday the 13th” film. It is beyond comprehension. Continue reading

Here in Massachusetts and indeed across the country, most of the public who have watched the sick and twisted saga of the murder of young Bella Bond, are understandably outraged at the extremely lenient sentence that the dead girl’s mother, Rachelle Bond, was given today by a Massachusetts Superior Court judge.  That sentence?  Time already served while incarcerated in this matter – approximately 2 years – plus 2 years of probation & drug monitoring.  She will walk free by this Friday, into a rehab program at a halfway house. Continue reading

Predictably, the Michelle Carter verdict, my legal analysis of which I posted previously, has dominated both public discourse as well as legal debate over the last couple of days.  And with equal predictability, this debate has broken down along lines of civil liberties groups (such as the ACLU,) as well as so called “cyber rights” and “social media/internet free speech” groups, loudly criticizing it.  Critical re-emphasis of the contextual facts of this case, validating the judge’s verdict, is much needed here.

Those who disagree with this judge’s decision, base their positions on largely these two bases:

  • That because Massachusetts does not currently have a specific statute on the books criminalizing the act of “encouraging” a person to commit suicide, the judge’s finding is without legal foundation. This claim is entirely false as a matter of law, as I will discuss below.

The long and painful saga of the trial of Michelle Carter, charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in the 2014 suicide death of her 18 year-old “boyfriend” Carter Roy III, is not completely finished.  Not on a legal level, because Carter has yet to be sentenced – that will come later.  And on a personal level, the case will in reality never be “finished” – not for the two families involved in this story of pathos and “progress” (i.e., technological.)  Certainly not for several others affected by it, either.

For it is a fact that a collision of forces took place in this young man’s death:  A combination of mental illness in the form of depression, of homicidal animus, and, yes, of moral decay within a society where the most intimate of relationships – including marriage – and now, yes, life itself- are ended by something called a smartphone.  Yes, this case is an indictment and a conviction of one person – Michelle Carter – for the suicidal death of Conrad Roy III.  But our society as a whole can be indicted here, as well:  For reducing the value of human life and human interaction to something so shallow and cowardly as an electronic text. Continue reading

When I last posted about New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, I emphasized that amid the media reports that had been swirling around, it needed to be remembered that Hernandez should nonetheless was entitled to a legal presumption of innocence. That principle is embodied in the U.S. Constitution, and for a very good reason.

That post was written about three days ago, on June 26 2013. Today, critical legal developments arose, which substantially alter both the present and future for Hernandez. Earlier tonight, I appeared as legal analyst on WBZ-AM 1030’s flagship show, Nightside with Dan Rea, to discuss these developments.

Hernandez was arraigned earlier today in Attleboro District Court on a charge of Murder in the First Degree. An arraignment is (usually) a brief appearance before a court, where the Commonwealth formally presents the charges and the initial evidence against the defendant, and the defendant (almost always) enters a plea of Not Guilty. As I said, it’s typically a very brief, routine proceeding. In almost all cases, an Assistant District Attorney, usually a newly-minted attorney who has been out of law school less than five years, presents the charges on behalf of the District Attorney’s office that is involved. (That’s not to say that these younger Assistant DA’s aren’t talented – they are – but the Number One prosecutor in that DA’s office – the elected District Attorney – does not normally appear.)

The air has been filled with buzz the past few days over police and law enforcement’s interest in Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots Football player. Hernandez has become a person of interest in the investigation of the homicide of a Dorchester man, one 27 year-old Odin Lloyd, whose body was found last Monday about a mile from Hernandez’ home.

What I haven’t heard a lot about in all this buzz, is a little something called the “Presumption of innocence.” So far, police and investigators have searched Hernandez’ North Attleboro home (for about three hours yesterday, Sat. June 22 2013,) but no arrest has yet been made. The Bristol County District Attorney’s Office isn’t commenting; The Massachusetts State Police aren’t commenting; and the New England Patriots press office isn’t commenting. But from what I hear in public, a lot of people are commenting themselves, and a lot of them think they smell foul play here.

As a Boston Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I think these judgments are premature. Maybe Hernandez is implicated in this homicide. Maybe he wasn’t involved at all. Maybe his involvement was incidental, and he’s just too scared to talk. The point is, that those of us who aren’t directly involved in this homicide investigation, don’t know for sure what facts are or are not developing here,

The twisted saga of the Amy Bishop case became (hopefully) a little clearer today, with the release of a press statement by Congressman William D. Delahunt, who was the Norfolk County District Attorney at the time of the May 1986 incidents surrounding the shooting death of Bishop’s brother, Seth Bishop.

Much has been made in the past week, concerning the fact that Amy Bishop was never charged with a crime in connection with her actions following the shooting death of her brother Seth. Those actions several Massachusetts firearms violations wich included Bishop aiming a loaded shotgun at several people, including two employees at Dave Dinger Ford in Braintree, where she demanded a getaway car and keys. Armed officers from the Braintree Police Department had to tackle Bishop from behind to wrest the shotgun from her, yet she was never arrested, or charged with any Massachusetts crimes. Twenty-four years later (with some disturbing and highly suspicious criminal conduct in between,) Bishop shot five people on the campus of the University of Alabama, killing three and wounding two. The central question on everyone’s lips for the past week: How could Bishop have been released? How is it she was never even charged with a crime? The response from all the various law enforcement and prosecutorial parties involved has, so far, largely been finger-pointing.

The question is, whose finger is pointing in the right direction? The parties involved here were: 1) The Braintree Police Department. They had primary law enforcement and investigative jurisdiction, as the crimes occurred in the town of Braintree. 2) The Massachusetts State Police. They were brought in because a killing and possible murder may have been involved, and when such an event occurs, it is standard procedure that State Police investigators are called in. (Actually, a state Police unit is already assigned to and housed within each District Attorney’s office.) 3) The Norfolk District Attorney’s Office. They would have been responsible for prosecuting any crimes that police investigators referred to them. Let’s review who should have done what:

The recent media coverage about the death of Nancy Kerrigan’s father, which has now been ruled a homicide by the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s office, illustrates how fast and furious an argument can escalate into something far more dire: Potentially a murder charge. Kerrigan, of course, is the 1994 Olympic figure skater who was the target of a physical attack by associates of her rival, Tonya Harding.

Kerrigan’s brother, Mark Kerrigan, 45, was arrested on January 24 on a charge of assault and battery after Stoneham police responded to a domestic disturbance call from the Kerrigan home. On arriving, the police reportedly found Kerrigan’s father, Daniel Kerrigan, lying unconscious on the kitchen floor at the house at about 1:30 AM. He later died at the hospital he was taken to. The medical examiner’s office determined that Daniel Kerrigan suffered from high blood pressure and clogged arteries, but that the cause of death was “cardiac dysrhythmia” – which is an interruption of the normal heart beat – after a “physical altercation with neck compression” that fractured the cartilage in his larynx. In other words, that Mark Kerrigan precipitated the events that led to the elder Kerrigan’s death, through the act of putting his hands around his father’s neck and attempting to strangle him.

Officers said Mark Kerrigan appeared intoxicated and was found in the basement trying to hide a bottle of Scotch. Police reported that the younger Kerrigan was combative, that they had to use pepper spray to subdue him, and had to forcibly carry him out of the basement. The report filed by the arresting officers says, “(Mark Kerrigan) said he wanted to use the phone and his father would not let him. He said he struggled with his father and put his hands around his father’s neck and his father fell to the floor.” The younger Kerrigan reportedly has a long history of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness. Last year, he was released from prison after serving more than two years for assaulting his wife and threatening her with a knife. He was staying in his parents’ home, even though they had sued him recently for what they said was over $100,000 in unpaid debts. He was reportedly taking medication for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and is presently being held under psychiatric evaluation. Nancy Kerrigan, joined by her brother Michael and their mother Brenda, have criticized the coroner’s finding as “premature and inaccurate,” insisting that her brother is not to blame for the elder Kerrigan’s death.